Fr. Frank Canfield, SJ, was a wise counselor, dedicated teacher at U of D Jesuit

Fr. Francis E. (Frank) Canfield, SJ, graduated from University of Detroit Jesuit High School in Detroit and later returned to serve for more than two decades at his alma mater after he was ordained and professed vows as a Jesuit. Fr. Canfield died May 6 at the age of 87. (Archdiocese of Detroit file photo)

CLARKSTON — Fr. Frank Canfield, SJ, was known for being an out-and-out “high school Jesuit,” a thoughtful, compassionate teacher who was always there for his students.

Fr. Canfield, an alumnus of University of Detroit Jesuit High School who returned to teach at his alma mater, is remembered fondly by students who had him for class.

Charles Gumbel was a student at the University of Detroit Jesuit High School when Fr. Canfield taught, and after graduating from the school, became Fr. Canfield’s colleague when he became assistant principal while Fr. Canfield was principal.

“He was well-liked by any young man who crossed his path,” Gumbel told Detroit Catholic. “He took a great interest not just in their performance in the classroom, but how they were outside the classroom with friends and family, with anyone he worked with.”

Fr. Canfield died May 6 at the Colombiere Center Jesuit community in Clarkston. He was 87.

Francis E. Canfield was born Feb. 1, 1936, in Detroit. He graduated from the University of Detroit Jesuit High School before entering the Chicago Province of the Society of Jesus on Sept. 1, 1954. Canfield transferred to the Detroit Province when it was created in 1955.

Fr. Canfield was ordained at the Colombiere Center on June 14, 1967, and pronounced his final vows at the University of Detroit Jesuit High School and Academy on Aug. 15, 1976.

Fr. Canfield earned a bachelor’s (1959) and master’s (1964) in classics from Loyola University Chicago and a licentiate degree in philosophy from West Baden College in West Baden Spring, Ind. (1961), while he was in formation.

He was then sent to Canada to earn his master’s of theology and licentiate in sacred theology from Regis College in Toronto (1968) and master’s in psychology from the University of Windsor (1970).

Fr. Canfield taught Latin at the University of Detroit Jesuit High School and Academy from 1961 to 1964, and after his ordination and completing his studies in Canada, he returned to U of D High from 1970 to 1989, teaching psychology, theology and Latin, while also being a student counselor and later principal.

“You always felt he was genuine about his love of working with you, his love working with other men,” Gumbel said. “The Jesuit motto is 'Men for others,' and (Fr.) Frank lived that. I never recall a time where I saw (Fr.) Frank angry with a young man. He might have been a little not happy with them, but he never berated them.”

Mike Bonventre, another U of D High alumnus, remembers Fr. Canfield counseling him during his junior year after the death of his mother, and how Fr. Canfield’s calm, wise words helped him get through that challenging time.

“He was my counselor and just provided me a lot of comfort, a lot of reassurance after my mother passed away,” Bonventre said. “I lost my father when I was 10 months old, so my mother was a key figure in the family. It was a challenging time in my adolescence, and I remember the impact of him being there, being loving and being a reassuring force.”

Fr. Canfield then spent 15 years at St. John’s Jesuit High School in Toledo, Ohio, as a teacher and student counselor and served as the superior of the community from 1996 to 2002.

Fr. Canfield then moved on to St. Ignatius High School in Cleveland for eight years, before being missioned to the Colombiere Center in 2014.

Bonventre lost contact with Fr. Canfield after graduating high school, but after a work colleague prompted him to reach out to people who had a big impact in his life, Bonventre reconnected with Fr. Canfield five years ago, and the two hit it off like they’d been seeing each other over all the years.

“I was able to reconnect with him, and it was a special time where I was able to meet with him, reminisce, bring up some old yearbooks and talk about the different retreats I was on,” Bonventre said. “It was almost like we picked up where we left off after so many years. It was remarkable to be able to share the impact he had on me after so many years. I don’t think he recognized at the time the impact he had on people, on me in particular, and it was tremendous that I had the opportunity to express that to him while he was still alive.”

A Mass of Christian Burial was celebrated May 11 at the Colombiere Center Chapel, where he was later buried.

Those who knew Fr. Canfield shared their memories on his memorial page, and condolences can be sent to the Colombiere Jesuit Community, c/o Bradley Schaeffer, S.J., 9075 Big Lake Road, Clarkston, MI 48346-1010, [email protected].


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